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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Max Curtis
    December 25, 2016 @ 5:10 pm

    The shadow of Series 9 looms large. Should we think of The Husbands of River Song and The Return of Doctor Mysterio as a two-parter? The titles are certainly mirrored, after all.


    • thesmilingstallioninn
      December 25, 2016 @ 6:31 pm

      I haven’t seen The Return of Doctor Mysterio yet, however, there is a plotline or tie-in thread between this and The Husbands of River Song, possible spoiler speculation for arc:

      In The Husbands of River Song, the buyer who comes to purchase the diamond is a representative of The Shoals of Winter Harmony or something like that. And in a recent trailer for Doctor Mysterio, I saw the name of the company that the Doctor, the journalist, and the superhero have broken into: Harmony Shoals. Haha, they’re bringing back the arc words.


  2. Tamsyn Lawrence
    December 25, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

    Well that was lots of fun. Excellent to see Moffat just lark about through comic book tropes and their intersection with relationship farce comedy. Flagrantly lifting the “fake an alien invasion to unite the world” bit from Watchmen is also amusing, although I’m sure it will only enrage the Moffat haters who mistake pastiche for fraud. A bunch of fun gags, I probably missed half of them due to general Christmas sozzledness. Don’t think there was one about the Karkus, alas.

    Nardole didn’t annoy me, except his rather on-the-nose bit about River at the end, so that was a relief. And in general flagging up the idea that River is now lost to the Doctor forever keeps irking me because isn’t her mind still in the library’s computer or whatever it was? In an episode where the Doctor can reattach heads in throwaway dialogue, he can’t work her out of that somehow?

    Side note: are we meant to think the Doctor was trying to stop the time problems in New York as a means of getting to see Amy again? If so, rather a wretch he didn’t get to thanks to the jewelry power source thing getting swallowed by Grant. Although none of this explains why he can’t park the TARDIS in New Jersey at whenever the appropriate time was and then just drive there or whatever. Perhaps the Doctor himself is now also just time incompatible with Amy-and-Rory time New York, although I give it like three series before an episode kiboshes that theory too.

    Continuity wrangles aside, though, excellent fun.


    • Prole Hole
      December 25, 2016 @ 11:49 pm

      You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think there IS a solution to the “why doesn’t he land the TARDIS in Jersey and drive there?” question, though it requires a bit of, ahem, flexible thinking.

      OK, so this doesn’t tie in with how time generally works in Doctor Who, but it does within the specifics of this episode. There’s a big song and dance made about the fact that, once the Doctor reads something in River’s book, it becomes a capital-F Fact. They even highlight this with River’s broken wrist. If it’s read, it can’t be changed, and the Doctor explicitly states this. Then, in the graveyard scene at the end, Rory reads his own tombstone, and what’s more he tells Amy, Rory and River about it. So it becomes a FACT for him, and thus isn’t something the Doctor can change. Then Amy’s Zapped By An Angel, and her name appears on the tombstone too, and the Doctor reads it there. Therefore, by the rules of this episode at least, he simply can’t go back in time, drive to NYC and rescue them, because their death has become an established historical fact. I have the feeling a few re-writes might have made this noticeably more clear, and as I say, that’s not generally how time works in Doctor Who, but for this episode… well for this episode it does. This solution may not entirely plug the hole, but at least it’s bailing out water.


      • Tamsyn Lawrence
        December 25, 2016 @ 11:59 pm

        It’s less that I expect the Doctor to save them –
        I can buy the whole “reading the grave means it has to happen like so” thing – and more that I’d think he’d at least want to visit were it at all possible. And that he especially might have after seeing River for the last time in the last Christmas ep, hence coming around to trying to fix New York in this one…

        Although none of this bothers me as much as them not ever directly addressing whether Rory and Amy ever got around to adopting the freshly regenerated Mels (immediately after Day of the Moon’s ending, she’d just regenerated and is in New York during a time they would also be there…) and then shipping her off to their own past in the future (as it were) to be their childhood friend. And also how she gets there at all, come to that. (from 60s New York to 90/00s UK, I mean.) Has anyone ever plugged this gap satisfactorily?


        • Kit
          December 26, 2016 @ 5:45 am

          “also how she gets there at all, come to that. (from 60s New York to 90/00s UK, I mean.)”

          She came the long way around.


          • Daibhid C
            December 26, 2016 @ 11:16 am

            “How did you … get here from the past?”
            “I dunno. I couldn’t not.”

          • Tamsyn Lawrence
            December 26, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

            Sure, but this implies an entire 40-50 year chunk of River’s life in which… she either remains a child for all of it (which doesn’t seem compatible with how she ages as Mels. i.e. at a normal human rate more or less) or regenerates into one just before she goes to meet up with Amy and Rory in their childhoods? Which means you can regenerate into children again which.. I guess makes sense but still seems kinda weird.

          • Daibhid C
            December 26, 2016 @ 11:04 pm

            If you don’t mind putting far too much weight on a throwaway gag, River can apparently control her physical ageing, even making it run backwards if she wants. So she ages normally as Mels because she wants to grow up normally with Amy and Rory, even if not as her parents, but wasn’t necessarily doing so before that. (She may even have aged and then de-aged, which would explain how she knows she can do that.)

            I don’t think it’s as long as 40 years — she regenerates in 1970 (“six months” after the moon landing), and Caitlin Blackwood is still Amelia in the flashbacks with Mels, so it’s not much later than the meeting with the Raggedy Doctor in 1996 (and they’re already friends; we don’t know how long Mels has already been there). So around 20-30 years, probably. Still a heck of a long gap in the River Song biography, though.

    • The Flan in the High Castle
      December 27, 2016 @ 11:26 am

      I don’t think the Watchmen lift is as straightforward as it initially seems, even with the attack focusing on the destruction of New York. Adrian Veidt fabricated an alien attack to unite the world in fear, but Harmony Shoal genuinely were the advance of an alien invasion. They didn’t want to bring the world’s powers together via the communal effects of terror – they just wanted to frighten its leaders into geographical locations where they could body-snatch them and quietly assume control of society. It owes as much to Davies and the Aliens of London / World War Three double bluff as it does to Watchmen. If anything, Moffat’s being a little bit angrier than Moore here, with the salacious detail of cowardly heads of state getting their comeuppance along the way.


    • Larry W
      December 27, 2016 @ 6:03 pm

      “Although none of this explains why he can’t park the TARDIS in New Jersey at whenever the appropriate time was and then just drive there or whatever.”

      He could also have them meet him in New Jersey. But trying to get Manhattanites to cross the bridges or tunnels on their own accord usually requires herculean effort. 🙂


  3. William Shaw
    December 25, 2016 @ 7:42 pm

    I liked it. Nardole was clearly added at the last minute, but I do like the gag of having him play with the elephant in the room.


    • John G. Wood
      December 26, 2016 @ 10:28 am

      Oh, I missed that! Nice.

      We loved it here – light and fluffy, just right for a Christmas episode. The direction was spot on for a superhero pastiche (my daughter pointed out the general use of vertical lines in set and shot to invoke comic panels quite apart from the more obvious cases), and as someone who was a teenage comic fan when the Christopher Reeve Superman came out I enjoyed the nods to that – and indeed all the classic “what everyone knows” tropes of the genre. I smiled at the Watchmen lift, and, well, we generally had a good time. Happy Christmas everyone!


  4. Christopher Kelley
    December 25, 2016 @ 8:13 pm

    Odd how Moffat went with two Christmas specials in the “woman doesn’t recognize her beloved” vein twice in a row. That was the biggest issue here. TRODM was too caught up in telling the “superhero struggles to reveal his secret identity to woman” story that the superhero genre discarded years ago because it was fucking boring.


    • Tamsyn Lawrence
      December 25, 2016 @ 8:23 pm

      Getting Moffat not to write romcom farce is like getting Robert Holmes not to write about evil beauraucrats – you can do it, but why would you want to?


      • Christopher Kelley
        December 25, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

        Oh, Moffat returning to sitcom mode wasn’t an issue for me. It was the particular model he went for that I thought was faintly tedious.


    • Jim
      December 26, 2016 @ 9:29 am

      When Doctor Who lifts from other genres, it’s not aimed at fans of those genres – but at a general audience who haven’t had enough exposure to the ideas to be bored by them.


      • John
        December 26, 2016 @ 1:59 pm

        Especially the Christmas Special


        • Tamsyn Lawrence
          December 26, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

          Very much agreed.


  5. Philip
    December 25, 2016 @ 10:32 pm

    It was awfully nice of Moffat to make a Watchmen reference to promote Phil’s new book.


  6. Janine
    December 25, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

    That was… okay. Not the best, not the worst. It seemed to work through a lot of superhero movie tropes without actually… well… saying anything about them. More of a straightforward homage than a proper deconstruction, which doesn’t surprise me from a comics fan, and fair enough.

    I liked the mentions of River, anyway. Series 10 looks a hoot, too.


  7. AntonB
    December 25, 2016 @ 11:53 pm

    Oh dear. It was like one of those ‘Zap! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore’ articles done as a Doctor Who episode. I get that it was riffing on the Reeve/Donner movies more than actual comic books but even so Moffat’s rom-com head got the better of him here. (I’m not a Moffat hater BTW I happen to enjoy most of his work on Doctor Who). He should have done a little more research than just skipping to the end of Watchmen I feel.

    I also don’t think Capaldi is punching with his full weight and I’m really not sure why. He’s still ‘playing’ the Doctor rather than ‘being’ the Doctor.

    On the plus side Nardole was less irritating than I expected, Lucy was a nicely played character and when it turned out the Doctor was being grumpy about River and not pining for Clara like Ten for Rose I warmed to the episode slightly.

    Next-time trailer looked promising too and we only have to wait til Spring.


    • Daibhid C
      December 26, 2016 @ 11:23 am

      It actually reminded me more of early Lois and Clark, although I may have been influenced by the DWM cover.

      One geeky thing I noticed is that Young Grant’s Superman comics appear to correct for the mid-eighties.


  8. Sean Dillon
    December 26, 2016 @ 3:42 am

    Not really a favorite. Not bad, just not that interesting. Would have preferred if they did something different than what they did, but c’est la vie. If anything, this episode shows that in hindsight, Moffat should have probably gone with the Spider-Man archetype rather than the Superman one. At least then he’d have a clever witty jerk to work with.


  9. Jane
    December 26, 2016 @ 5:59 am

    I was bored.


  10. Kyle
    December 26, 2016 @ 6:44 am

    As a comic book enthusiast, it’s a fun parody. It’s a bit amateur in its criticisms, but the actual Ghost/Nanny scenario was hilariously done. Affectionate and respectful. As for a Doctor Who episode, it’s like drinking whipped cream out of the bottle. Tastes good, little aftereffect. It was funny, big, and adventurous, but there was no meat to the episode. It’s a very Davies Christmas special without a character arc for a main character. Enjoyable, and Moffat is still the best comedic writer Who ever had, but it just leaves me yearning for the proper Season 10 premier.


    • Froborr
      December 28, 2016 @ 1:19 am

      like drinking whipped cream out of the bottle. Tastes good, little aftereffect.

      You and I have both very different tastes and very different levels of lactose tolerance.


  11. ViolentBeetle
    December 26, 2016 @ 8:03 am

    Found superhero parts almost unbearable, and there wasn’t any connection between plots until the end.

    I wish there was a version with no Grant at all.


  12. Lambda
    December 26, 2016 @ 10:42 am

    Would people be objecting more to the way we’re supposed to care chiefly about whether the (cis het white male) guy with superpowers gets the girl, with the story clearly not being about whether the incredibly clever at Doctor-interrogating woman gets the superhero, if there wasn’t a thing called “Superman” which it was similar to?


    • Tamsyn Lawrence
      December 26, 2016 @ 11:15 am

      I need to watch it again, but it seemed like it was strongly implied during the high-school flashback scene that Grant was bi/pansexual.


    • Daibhid C
      December 26, 2016 @ 11:08 pm

      Would this story exist in anything remotely resembling this form if there wasn’t a thing called Superman it was similar to?


  13. mr_mond
    December 26, 2016 @ 12:49 pm

    I was really worried Moffat was going to serve us an unreconstructed nerd power fantasy with a side of nice guy syndrome, but I should have trusted him a bit more. I mean, it’s nothing revolutionary, but there were enough subtle twists on the thing that it didn’t feel abhorrent: there was no sense of entitlement on Grant’s part (it’s a fine line separating a guy with a nice guy syndrome from, well, an actual nice guy, but a vital one for me), just genuine sweetness and a bit of shyness. I got a sense that if his life wasn’t made awkward and complicated by the superpowers, maybe he would be more open about his feelings.

    As for the superhero part, I really appreciated how awkward Grant felt about his X-ray vision, not in the least because it would be so easy to do a standard gross joke about “haha, seeing under clothes” – that was a really good subversion. And then there was, once again, an appreciation of non-traditional masculine roles (see also: Rory), along with a pretty straightforward statement that that’s more important than nerd power fantasies.

    In all, a good bit of fun. I loved the Watchmen reference, as well as triple deadlock – I’ve been listening once again to the Eruditorum Press Doctor Who Series 9 Podcasts and I remember Phil complaining about the sonic sunglasses broadcasting through a deadlock. Now it seems we have a triple deadlock to serve as a “solid” barrier, and it’s just so delightfully over the top.

    Also, was I the only one who got a sense that the Doctor is not okay with River being left in the Library and that we might be getting a “getting River out of the computer” story in series 10?


    • Aylwin
      December 26, 2016 @ 11:53 pm

      Also kind of a Coupling reference, or at least echo. “I CAN’T TURN OFF THE NAKED PEOPLE!”


  14. Tom Marshall
    December 26, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

    I don’t think River will be back for Series 10, but it’s interesting to note that

    Harmony = Melody = Song
    Shoal = River = Pond

    There’s a definite theme there, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see these baddies come back again in a darker episode where they are more front-and-centre. Their central MO is nasty and the effect of them pulling heads in half is well-done, so there should be a bit more mileage out of them yet.

    My non-fan family enjoyed this more than I did, which is the way it should be on Christmas Day, truth be told! 🙂


    • John
      December 26, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

      I always thought a shoal referred to the sandbank, not the water.


      • Tom Marshall
        December 27, 2016 @ 11:38 am

        Yeah, tis no perfect fit, but still an odd coincidence if it is a coincidence!


    • Tamsyn Lawrence
      December 26, 2016 @ 2:46 pm

      Oh god, Harmony Shoal DOES sound like a River Song reference. Well spotted!


  15. Jay Furth
    December 26, 2016 @ 3:49 pm

    It’s the last episode I’d want to read an Eruditorium essay on, as it doesn’t do anything of particular interest or expose anything of Moffat’s Doctor Who that isn’t already long apparent (a tendency to revert to basic farce where complex farce won’t do the trick). And yet, I thought it was a joy. It was exactly what I wanted from a piece of television on Christmas. Not generally what I want from Doctor Who of course, but it didn’t need to be.


  16. Carey
    December 26, 2016 @ 5:12 pm

    For the second Christmas special in a row there is one main female guest star and the only other speaking role given to a female actor is that of a news reporter. Which I suppose is a step up from last years token other woman being a receptionist.

    A deeply problematic episode when combined with the stalkers aspects of Grant’s relationship with Lucy (although I acknowledge that this part of the script is a deliberate deconstruction of the Clark Kent/Lois Lane relationship).


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      December 26, 2016 @ 6:56 pm

      River Song was a receptionist?


      • Carey
        December 26, 2016 @ 8:21 pm

        I’m an artist, not a writer!!! (Actually, fair’s fair, I’m not much of either.)

        I meant last year’s other token female: the only speaking parts played by women were River Song and a receptionist last year, and Lucy and another reporter this year. Lack of female representation was less noticeable last year because the dining scene had mixed couples.

        But some of the blame can go to the director. This is evident with coverage on Matt Lucas and his filming availability, to the degree that his sudden absence from midway through certain scenes makes the way they dealt with last years similar issue with the availability of Maisie Williams look subtle.


    • bucktwenty
      December 26, 2016 @ 7:03 pm

      I agree – having just listened to the audio play the Waters of Amsterdam, I felt this episode had some problems, too, though I also recognize it as being a deconstruction of the basic Superman story.

      Spoilers for the audio: Tegan runs into an ex-boyfriend on a trip to Amsterdam, who then proceeds to basically follow her and the Doctor around for half the plot before revealing who he really is, an android who originally was supposed to trick Tegan into a relationship with him so he could help the baddie take over Earth by use of some time-travel shenanigans involving the TARDIS, but who actually falls in love with Tegan in the process. Though Tegan ultimately rejects him in no uncertain terms, it almost felt to me that this was done more to conform to existing canon then because it would have been creepy and wrong. That he’s not, ultimately, the villain of the piece really troubled me, and the Doctor not having a problem with him (and offering a spot in the fucking TARDIS team to him at the end!) really felt off to me, too. I can’t believe this was followed a few months later by the absolutely wonderfully anti-capitalist Peterloo Massacre, which I’d recommend infinitely over Waters of Amsterdam. end spoilers

      Back on topic – Grant is worse than (what I know of, I’m not a comics reader) Superman, because he’s in Lucy’s house all the time with her child (and leaves the child to go save people or whatever, which is neglect and should have her pissed, no matter how quickly he can get back) and she has no idea. It all may have been worth it if she flatly rejected Grant at the end, but it’s no surprise she didn’t, considering what audience this episode is for and the specific tropes Moffat is playing with.

      I dunno. There were some fun bits, and Capaldi was great as usual – the gag with the sushi was hilarious – but I think I like this the least of Capaldi’s Christmas specials.


      • Cary
        December 26, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

        I think The Return of Doctor Mysterio shows the continual problem with deadlines that the Moffat era has. The central issue I have with the story is that Moffat is so fixed on the idea of pastiching traditional male superhero tropes at no point does he consider changing gender to investigate the same tropes.

        I wonder if he’d had more time if he’d have thought of that solution?

        At least part of the problem is his trying to subvert the gender roles (tough reporter who’s a woman, caring child rearer as a man) but fails to see the wood for the trees so still reinforces gender stereotypes (the woman is only fulfilled when she finds a man; the superhero abandons civic duty to look after his woman and child).

        Again, it looks as though it’s screaming for another draft.


        • bucktwenty
          December 26, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

          But I mean… he had a year! I don’t know what else he’s gotten up to since he wrote/produced Husbands of River Song, but a deadline should not be a problem for the only episode airing in 2016…


          • mr_mond
            December 26, 2016 @ 8:57 pm

            I’d suspect three episodes of Sherlock…

        • Daibhid C
          December 26, 2016 @ 11:15 pm

          I rarely say I think someone’s giving Moffat too much credit, especially when they’re actually criticising him, but if you’re doing Superman, “tough reporter who’s a woman” isn’t really a subversion of anything. It’s how it goes.

          I agree with bucktwenty that there’s a serious problem in that Grant is actually a terrible nanny.


  17. encyclops
    December 27, 2016 @ 8:53 am

    I’m with Jane. A real yawner of a Christmas night.



  18. Larry W
    December 27, 2016 @ 6:07 pm

    There was a neat little time travel joke snuck into the episode where Nardol essentially stole the TARDIS, had his own adventure, became the firm but faith Emperor of China, returned before the Doctor even noticed it was gone and brought back tea which they both enjoyed thoroughly.


    • Dustin
      December 28, 2016 @ 10:14 am

      Byzantine Emperor, not Chinese. “I ruled firmly but wisely.”


  19. Froborr
    December 28, 2016 @ 1:23 am

    Silly, forgettable, twee, overenamored with its own cleverness (of which it had substantially less than it thought), and a bit boring. So, a DW Christmas special, basically.


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